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Larry Madowo on Digital Migration (Oops!) – a hoi polloi response.

Larry Madowo has spoken on digital migration and as a Kenyan (who is a big Larry Madowo fan), I am perplexed.

For one, I am perplexed at his tone. As a public personality myself (okay, just on social media – and not nearly as big time as Larry), I know that it does not pay to talk down to people – whether they know the meaning of DVBT2 or not. In his blog post, he has chosen to take a condescending approach to explaining his company’s position. I am not sure whether his intention was to simply lash out at people and call the idiots (without using those words) or that he wanted to inform us with a view of gaining some public support. As I say, I am perplexed. I also have had cause to wonder why Larry is speaking so loudly on this issue, while his own CEO, Linus Gitahi is so conspicuously quiet on the issue. Linus tweets as @lgtwits. But this is besides the point and it is not my intention to join the ad hominem and attack Larry or anyone.

I read his blog post twice. I was hoping to gain a better understanding as to why the so called Analogue 3 (I got it from him) switched off their stations. I am no wiser. I have read the joint statement by the Analogue 3, which essentially states that the government through the Communication Authority broke into their transmission stations and carted away their analogue transmission equipment. They say that the government did so to force them to publish their content on the SIGNET and PANG set top boxes.

I don’t believe them.

I may not be a post-doctorate expert as Larry sarcastically lashes out, but here’s what I believe to be true.

  1. Digital Migration changes everything. Nothing in the media industry will remain the same – not even the mass appeal that Larry talks about. It is true that under the analogue regime Citizen TV, NTV and KTN (I don’t know about QTV) are the major players. After all, getting a TV station in the analogue regime has such a high barrier to entry because of cost. The competition therefore was other TV stations, namely Kiss TV and K24. The ones on Zuku, DSTV and other set top boxes was not even worth discussing.Suddenly, the big three find themselves having to compete with Winnie Mang’eni, who it seems broadcasts her Youtube show from her bedroom. Its not live, but all she needs is a good internet connection in addition to her phone and voila! she is streaming live. If she has an agreement with SIGNET or BAMBA TV or PANG’s Star Times she has a TV channel that can broadcast 24 hours a day. It should be noted that the price of a HD Web streaming camera has significantly dropped (see Amazon). A zuku home connection has also become massively affordable.Larry says that Dr. Ndemo told him that the competition in the electronic media industry is now about content. The question then becomes, does NTV, KTN, Citizen TV and QTV have the capacity to compete on this level? Do they have the flexibility to create shows that gain audiences and can compete with Winnie, Caroline Mutoko, Sharon Mundia, or even Molly’s World?
  2. The cheese has moved – so will the advertising dollars. Eyeballs will shift from the three (or four) stations that all showed generally the same thing – the same politically driven news at the same time, followed by the same kind of shows at the same time (everyone is showing a local production at the same time slot and everyone shows the same kind of south American telenovella or Nollywood movie at the same time). There has been little creativity or differentiation – except maybe for shows such as Larry’s the Trend (the likes of which I am not sure I have seen on TV). With the influx of the new TV stations, suddenly eyeballs will rove around looking for authenticity, differentiation, stimulation. And when niche TV stations start to show significant loyal following, marketers will be hard pressed not to follow the eyeballs. There is no cosmetic manufacturer who can scoff at Belle’s Africa who show a loyal following of 78,000 people.In some marketing book I read years ago, I found a quote that is attributed to John Wannamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Suddenly Kenyan advertisers can narrow these odds because they will know what most Kenyans are interested in and where they really are going. One little spoken off benefit of going digital is that it makes media monitor’s work even easier. In the same way that a mobile phone company can tell how many subscribers are currently making a call and which specific numbers are on call at a specific second, so will the digital TV stations. It will be child’s play to track which TV stations have the most viewership at which times and in fact it will even get easier to profile customers.If I like comedy and I switch from station to station watching mainly comedy shows, this is data that will be available to digital TV broadcasters and advertisers who can plan better how to show me feel-good ads that make me buy their products.
  3. The only people that will be hurt by the switch-off is the Analogue 3. Propaganda aside, the real situation is that the switch off by the big broadcasters helps all other players. Life after all, must go on. People are buying set top boxes both paid and not paid. All of the set top boxes have channels that are free to air. People will have stuff to watch. According to Caroline Mutoko, both viewers and advertisers are on the move already to Bamba TV and other places. My friends in advertising scoff at the idea that they will wait for the big stations to resolve their issues.The real thing for Larry and his colleagues to consider is this fictitious analogy.
    There was once a big restaurant in Nairobi where everyone went for long leisurely lunches. It was the envy of a bevy of other smaller restaurants that served good food too but that people didn’t know. One day, Mututho happened by and created a rule that outlawed long lunches, restricting them to 2 hours maximum. The big restaurant was upset – after all the longer people stayed the more they spent. “Ha!! does he know we are the main restaurant of this city? he must know people!” they huffed and decided to close the restaurant so that they can win public support. People had to eat at lunch time – two hours or not and so while the big restaurant was closed, they went and ate in the little restaurants around. Many discovered amazing food and new cuisine. Many discovered that little restaurants often offer personalised service too. After a few weeks, the big restaurant opened. Did people flock back? Some surely did. But everyone knew they had a choice – and they knew that on some days, they could taste other restaurants’ food too.
  4. Johnny come-lately misses the bus. Competition is good for us viewers, for advertisers and it is great for smaller broadcasters. I have my doubts about the Analogue 3’s ADN Set top boxes. When they come, if I have bought another set top box that gives me a wide array of content that I enjoy, am I likely to spend money on a new ADN box? Personally, I will not.
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Nation Media Group’s performance at the NSE this mont

I think the Analogue 3 have miscalculated. And the performance of their shares in the Nairobi stock Exchange may speak to the impact of this strategy.

I have a suspicion that given time, Larry Madowo may have to stop scoffing at the people. After all, in marketing we know that the customer is not an idiot, she is your (grand)mother.

Update: Caroline Mutoko echo’s what I was saying:

I am a writer first and foremost. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship, which I define by finding ways to innovate the world’s processes to make life better for people – whether in business or in the non-profit sector. I am professionally involved at the Open Institute, Thellesi Co and various agricultural ventures.

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